SNP Net Zero secretary Mairi McAllan confirmed to the MSPs in a statement on the last day of her term in Holyrood that the government is no longer pursuing the policy of designating 10% of water bodies by 2026.
She told Holyrood: “While we remain firmly committed to the outcome of improved marine conservation, the proposal as consulted is not being pursued.”
Ms McAllan said there had been “considerable debate” on the issue, stressing there had been “constructive engagement with the Greens group” with whom the policy represents an important power-sharing agreement.
The Greens said they were “pleased” with Ms McAllan’s announcement.
As part of the Bute House Agreement, which sealed a cooperation agreement between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens, a commitment was made to “consolidate the existing MPA network through the designation of a world-leading set of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) to complete”. at least 10% of our seas”.
The pledge also notes that the plans will include “designations in both offshore and coastal waters”, although offshore waters will require UK Government approval.
The about-face is understood to have been made in partnership with the Scottish Greens, although anger at the proposals has been acknowledged.
Ms McAllan said: “Highly Protected Marine Areas are of course part of the Bute House Agreement and I welcome the constructive engagement I have received from the Green Group as we developed our thinking on this critical issue.”
Ms McAllan claimed that she had “listened carefully” to these concerns and stressed that she had “no doubt about the strong views both for and against” the HPMAs.
She stressed that “doing nothing” is not an option given the importance of protecting marine areas and stressed that the Scottish Government remains committed to action.
She added: “I recognize the magnitude of what HMPAs represent.
“We’re still at the drawing board on this issue.”
Ms McAllan told MSPs that there had been concerns on both sides of the debate about the timeframe for implementing the directive.
She said: “A particular concern expressed to me by both those who support HPMA and those who do not is that implementing the proposal in the proposed timeframe could limit our efforts to engage genuinely with communities, which is an integral part of Scotland’s approach.” a fair and just transition.
“While we remain firmly committed to improving marine protection for the reasons I have outlined, I can confirm today that the proposal as consulted will not be pursued.”
“This means that by 2026 we will no longer be attempting to introduce HPMAs in 10% of Scottish seas.”
Ariane Burgess, spokeswoman for Scottish Greens coastal communities, said: “The Scottish Greens have been committed to community engagement from the start. You must be at the center of our next actions. That’s why we’re pleased that the minister has not only recommitted himself to marine conservation, but is also committed to community-led contributions.
“But she also recognizes that we must do something to prevent damage and exploitation of our seas by finding a balance, something that opposition parties who have tried to weaponize the natural emergency seem to have missed. ”
“I hope that everyone I’ve had conversations with in my area, and everyone living at the heart of our coastal communities, will take heart and hope from today’s announcement to build on the golden opportunity that is being offered.”
Rachael Hamilton, the Scottish Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Rural Affairs, said: “The SNP may have rebranded its reckless plans to highly protected marine areas, but in reality it amounts to little more than abandoning the matter.
“I have never seen a policy met with such overwhelming opposition from coastal communities and Scotland’s fishermen must now be at the heart of any proposals put forward.
“As much as the SNP tries to turn around, ministers are still determined to improve marine conservation in another 10% of our seas, and that’s just a couple of years beyond their original plans.”
She added: “SNP Green Ministers have caused a great deal of stress in our coastal communities over the past few months – and that must never happen again.”
“While this statement gives them some breathing room, we must see that those who will be affected are dictating these new plans. The fact that the Greens have welcomed this move suggests the SNP will be dancing to their anti-fishing trend.”
Scottish Liberal Democrats’ Rural Affairs Spokesperson Beatrice Wishart said: “This is a testament to the power and voice of rural and remote communities united in their opposition.”
“They were outraged by the way the SNP and the Greens were determined to impose rigid and harmful policies and didn’t listen to them from the start.”
“It was clear from the start that this was being pursued to appease the Bute House Agreement and had little to do with the sustainability of the oceans or the communities that live and work in them.”
She added: “One will breathe a sigh of relief that the government has finally accepted that they made such a big mistake.”
“Communities need reassurance that future policies will not make the same mistakes, that they will be guided by science, meaningful engagement and a proper understanding of all the factors that help make our communities and fisheries sustainable.”